Can you explain semiotics in relation to human languages?

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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Semiotics is a huge topic. In this format, I can provide only a skeletal overview. [Your original question had to be cut down to one part to accord with eNotes policy and to fit the space constraints of this format.]

The name most often associated with semiotics is Ferdinand de Saussure, an early French linguist who diverted the study of past language development to the study of present language dynamic, that being parole (an individual's language action) and langue (a collective language system). Saussure described meaning, as expressed by language and other things as the relationship of the sign to the signifier. From this definition grew the study of semiotics, which is the study of how sign and signifier contain, hold and impart meaning about the signified.

A sign is any representational symbol for a unit of meaning that exists because of cultural agreement that it should be so. Signs might be images, letters of the alphabet, or words of languages. Signs and signifiers--the symbol and the abstract or physical concept or enity it represents as that which is signified--are specifically paired, not arbitrarily associated, though the original pairing is theorized to be random.

To study or analyze symbols through the lens of semiotics, you must identify and define the symbol, be it the images on a billboard, a directional street sign, or the text of a novel. Then you must determine and analyze the meaning imparted, it's effectiveness, and its affect upon perceiving recipients of the sign, i.e., readers, viewers, witnesses of an event or phenomenon, etc.

Signs relate to human languages because on both levels of language, written and spoken (spoken has primacy), the most essential yet also the most meaning-filled parts are signs representing signifiers. To illustrate, a letter of the alphabet is a sign for a phonetic element of meaning. When these phonetic signs (phonemes) are put together (or stand alone {a} {I}), they signify meaning from which communicative words are constructed. Similarly, words are signs for the signifiers of material (physical) or abstract objects, ideas, or concepts that communicate meaning between people and across communities. Semiotics addresses the fine points of these various signs and signifiers that relate to human languages, indeed comprise human languages and the meaning conveyed by them.

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rkizziah | High School Teacher | (Level 1) eNoter

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Ways that people speak are often determined by migration in earlier times. Creole is used around Louisiana due to a French influence.

When people move around, they take their culture with them. In some cases, it influences the places that they ultimately end up.

The references listed should help a bit.


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